Saturday, February 23, 2013

the attention span for beauty

I'm not sure how I feel about what I'm writing, because it makes me really feel like part of the machine, but here it goes. (Also, it will upset some artists out there - good, we need to have a dialogue). I would imagine I spend about 80 percent of my time outside during the work week with my eyes either glued on a screen or looking down at cracks in, or ice on, the sidewalk. It leaves me little time to observe or absorb much beauty in the built environment. Sure I perceive things and quickly put them in the "go, no-go" directory of my visual opinion, but that's about all I do.

Now a lot of this is due in large part to the 9-5 commute rush and hurried lunch breaks since we live in America and not the 'laze as you please European Union.' With that said, it's a sad excuse for not paying more attention to the beauty of details or wide sweeping forms around me. I'm saying this from the perspective of a designer, even more sad. It's easy to say change and spend more time appreciating, but it's not an easy balance. Perhaps this a bigger conversation outside of design and more on the culture of work in the American context. ANYWAY.

While I'm sitting on the subway or the bus, or power walking my self through the city streets, I always get to thinking about the role of beauty in the built environment. What does it mean for the year 2013, the younger generations and the future? In a time where most people part of a younger generation can find things of more intrigue on the Internet than the composition of space and textural patterning of planting - as an example - it makes me wonder if design moving toward performance based measurement is just evolution, after all.  

The focus on measuring success in the landscape seems to be more intriguing to many people than beauty. There's certainly already reasons for this other than the pace of life in the contemporary world: economic bottom line, environmental consciousness, community development - to name a few. If we were to go to a town or city today and say, we want to do this because it will be beautiful, the likelihood of something actually being built isn't very likely. But, if we say we can provide a design that will have measurable success for items ranging from environment to community, then the likelihood of getting it built goes up. 

Measurement trumps beauty? Perhaps.

So, what's the point? As designers we should be considering the role of art in design now more than ever. Particularly in the public sector where decision making based on proof and evidence is beginning to be weighted much higher than artistic value, how do we respond as design firms? Will sticking to a mantra of artist as designer work or do we need to move toward designer as artist, ecologist, engineer, scientist, policy maker, planner, public health expert?

My belief is that we need to become a profession of collaborators. Art for the sake of art isn't enough to design spaces that will last, nor be appreciated for the long term. Especially when the attention span for beauty is less and less, we need to create spaces of depth - not just a single dimension of being beautiful or not beautiful. There needs to be more to design than layout and composition - it needs to do something, perform in a way that makes a positive impact. 

Sure, even if only a few people appreciate the beauty, it needs to be beautiful as well. But, if we leave it at that, we're missing the point.

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